A pilgrim’s progress


A journey to Mount Kailash proved to be the ultimate quest for God, and self, says Reena Nair, who trekked through uncertain weather, rough terrain, and the thinnest of air to complete this profound spiritual journey.

Our mind is sublime and seeks happiness. But what is happiness? A child who gets a gift feels happy. A parent seeing their child do well feels happy. The degree and reason for happiness varies, but the feeling is the same. It is a state of mind. Attaining this happiness without depending on anything is, I guess spirituality, where you are forever in a state of bliss! Out of curiosity, seeking something beyond, in quest of the unknown, I decided to make a trip to Mount Kailash, popularly known as the abode of Lord Shiva. It is one of the holiest places for both Hindus and Buddhists, which is nestled amongst the Himalayan mountain ranges in Tibet, peaking at an altitude of 5,800 m.

Being physically and mentally fit is a pre-requisite for this sojourn. I started to prepare for my trip months ahead of the travel date with regular brisk walks, pranayama (breathing exercise) and turning completely vegetarian, including an attempt at maintaining positive thoughts. Being a corporate woman, the last one was not easy though.

Finally the day came, when I took my flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. I was taken to my hotel, which was booked by the travel agent, where I had to wait for a week for the rest of the group to join. One needs a Chinese visa, which is a group visa issued by the Chinese embassy in Delhi, as Tibet is an autonomous part of China. The group consisted of 45 members, most over 50 years of age. It was a pleasant experience meeting them and proceeding towards a common goal.

The journey begins

With devotion and chants of “Om Namah Shivaya”, we began our journey from Kathmandu. The route that was planned for us was a new one. Starting overland from Kathmandu, we followed this route – Sybrubesi – Rusuwagadi – Kyirong – Saga – Mansarovar – Darchen. Little did we know that every day of our three week’s trip would be filled with challenges. The first one came immediately after we set off from Kathmandu, before reaching Sybrubesi. The road was washed away, and we had to take a chopper to cross over to the other end. The 20-minute chopper ride was an amazing experience, as the pilot maneuvered the flying machine through the lush green mountains. Broken or washed away roads were a constant phenomenon we experienced through the journey. We stayed overnight at Rusuwagadi, which is on the Nepal– China border. From here, one has to cross the border by foot for almost around 2-3 kms. We were now in Tibet (the autonomous part of China). We visited a nearby Buddhist monastery and a few Chinese shops, where no one spoke the other’s language. The best part was, we were still able to carry out bargaining for some thermals, and convey to them what we wanted through actions. The night stay was at Kyirong.

The ethereal Mansarovar Lake

Moving forward, there came a time where we had to trek a steep mountain. The trekking was challenging as we had to bank on any shrub, branches or rock to climb a mountain almost 1000 meters high. There was no path to walk on, with one side being a steep valley and the other one having huge boulders. Feeling dizzy mid-way, I was aware that a slip would mean toppling all those behind me to the base. Suddenly, a hand gripped my wrist, so tight that I winced. It was a girl in her late teens maybe. She never spoke a word, but kept guiding me on the stepping stones and pulling me upwards. Not having any choice, I blindly followed her instructions to the top where our bus was parked. No words to thank her, I bowed down to her in gratitude, and gave away my jacket and some Chinese yuan that I had readily available. It was a miraculous incident for me as I did not see the girl again. Where she came from, why she chose only me, still remains a mystery to me.

Saga at 4,600 metres was our next stop. Midway, our bus got stuck in a puddle, which seemed to be a “no man’s” land. During the wait, we got out of the bus and for the first time I realised what altitude sickness meant. The moment I set my foot on the ground, my head started to reel, it was as if the mountains were moving around me, the ground was swaying. A few steps, and it felt fine. But the others in the group had a tough time as some of them had nausea and started to throw up, while a few others had blood pressure swings. The wait was for over six hours till help arrived. En-route, as night fell, we drove through the uneven winding roads, which had boulders and muck from landslides. At a point, we saw gushing waters of the River Brahmaputra, over the road which was not visible. At this point we felt we would not survive. Finally, we reached Saga at 1 a.m., completely exhausted. We were given Diamox for altitude sickness. Thankfully, my oxygen levels were quite high, around 93, compared to the required reading of 60 and above. A few of the pilgrims had to return from Saga due to health concerns.

The pristine Lake Mansarovar

Early next morning, we started for the holy Lake Manasarovar, the highest fresh water lake, at an elevation of 4,583 meters. A few miles ahead, we again got stuck due to a washed away road. This time the wait was for 10 hours. We waited patiently, while the Chinese men worked their way to build a temporary road. We reached Manasarovar at 9 pm. It was still daylight as the Sun sets only around 10 pm in Tibet. The sight of the beautiful, pristine lake made us forget all the hardships that we had gone through to reach there. As I stood by the crystal-clear waters of Manasarovar, the feeling was divine, no thoughts, no worries, just breathing the pure air, I felt overwhelmed with the calmness. Oblivious to anything around, as if the lake had embraced me. Tears trickling down my cheeks for no reason. Guess it was a state of Absolute Bliss! Bowing down, I started to pray and make some wishes, but my mind was blank! Filling my palms with the holy water, I splashed it over my cheeks. Until the next day morning, my cheeks had a tingling feeling of a soft touch. I was floating, with the sound of the water echoing in my ears, and a resonating feeling as if electric current was passing through my palms. I was on a spiritual high. I felt the ground moving under me, my head felt dizzy. It was magical! Later, at midnight, unfortunately, a lady (in her early 50s) from our group passed away. It was a shocking incident and left the group in depression. Her body was soon flown back. We performed ‘yagna’ (prayers) and proceeded to Darchen (Base Camp), where we shopped for trekking sticks, souvenirs, etc., and left for Yamadwar.

Yamadwar, is at an altitude of 4,860 m and holds a great significance in Hindu mythology. It is believed to be the gate to “Moksha”, a Sanskrit word meaning salvation. One has to shake off all mortal bonds to be one with the lord as a pure being. This point holds great importance in the quest for spiritual salvation, and is also the starting point of the ascent to parikrama (going around) of Mount Kailash. The Chinese guide restricted our trek beyond Yamadwar, since it was snowing heavily on top, which was too risky. Only three of us out of the 45 group members, based on our oxygen levels and age, were allowed to proceed further. I felt fortunate to have been one of the chosen one, but felt equally sad for others who could not go further. There were healthier and younger people in the group who could not go ahead. With all my devotion, I passed through the Yamadwar, and began my journey towards the abode of God, Lord Shiva. 

Geared in layers of thermals against the freezing temperature, with a sherpa holding my haversack consisting of a fruit, hot water and a pair of clothes, I started my trek. Brisk walking, running, or talking are to be avoided, as the thin air could cause breathing problems. The link between our life and this world is our breath, something that we take for granted. We had two pit stops at the Tibetan tents, that kept us warm. The yak butter tea, looked and tasted more like a soup. Tibetans are very friendly. They live with just the basic necessities, yet have a smile on their face always. Another realisation dawned – It is so easy to live a simple life, yet we complicate it. Joy is within us, misery is only when we seek our happiness outside. Leading a carefree life is possible, if we make a conscious effort. What goes on in our mind is just what we allow to happen. 

The divine energy

The energy amidst the mountains is beyond words. It echoed and felt as a vacuum. Nothing mattered anymore even if there was no one within visible sight. It was a different world, with nothingness. At this altitude, there is no hunger or thirst. After seven hours of trekking, we reached Dhirapuk, at an altitude of 5,200 m (the closest point to view Mount Kailash). Just before we reached our dorm, it started snowing, and within minutes the brown rocky ground turned to white snowy terrain. The scene was mesmerising! Staring at the mountain, I sobbed like a child, who has a lot to say but was unable to speak. That night I was restless. We could not proceed to Dolma La Pass, which is the highest point of this trek at 5,600 m, as it was snowing. The return journey was equally challenging. Yet, it was a satisfyingly memorable trip that brought me closer to spirituality, which is nothing but seeking and nurturing the good within oneself. This trip taught me a lot through my experiences. Even today, I get teleported to those mountains and the sound of flowing rivers and waterfalls, I feel the wind, I feel nature, I see god in all small things, and I feel god within myself. A slice of the mystical surroundings that stayed within me and a part of me is somewhere in the untainted pure surroundings of Mount Kailash. To me it will always be the abode of God, that taught me to see things differently, and be conscious in subconsciousness.

Reena Nair

A thorough Human Resources profes- sional from the corporate world, Reena Nair loves travelling and going places which are scenic, with family, solo, or with friends. Of late, she has developed a new found love to see places that hold spiritual significance.
Socializing and meeting people, known and unknown, also interests her. She tries every moment to live life to the fullest by balancing work, family, and hobbies that includes classical dancing!